Malaysian Airlines MH17 passenger plane carrying 295 people including between five and ten Britons 'shot down with ground-to-air missile' at 33,000ft over Ukraine near to Russian border
- Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 shot down over territory held by Pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine
- Body parts and wreckage spread over nine-mile area, suggesting plane broke up mid-air
- Whitehall sources say up to ten Britons feared dead, 23 Americans also thought to be on board
- US President Barack Obama calls the crash a 'terrible tragedy', and offers condolences to passengers' families
- Ukrainian interior ministry says plane was shot down by a BUK surface-to-air missile
- President Petro Poroshenko issued robust denial that his forces were involved
- Pro-Russian rebels also denied shooting down the plane and blamed Ukrainian air force
- Journalists in region say they saw a Buk-type launcher in pro-Russian rebel hands yesterday
A Malaysian Airlines passenger plane has been shot down on the Russian-Ukraine border, killing all 295 people on board including a reported five to ten Britons and 23 Americans.
The Boeing 777 aircraft was hit by a sophisticated surface-to-air missile over territory near Donetsk held by pro-Russian rebels who the Ukrainian government says are backed by the Kremlin.
The Ukrainian authorities laid the blame for the attack on the rebels by denying any responsibility for the missile launch.
TV pictures from the scene showed a pall of smoke billowing into the sky near Donetsk, apparently from the stricken flight MH17.
Witnesses say body parts are scattered over a distance of 15km, suggesting the plane broke up in mid-air.
Whitehall sources told MailOnline that between five and ten Britons were feared dead. Interfax news agency reported that 23 U.S. citizens were on board.
Destroyed: An armed pro-Russian separatist stands at a site of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region of Ukraine
Carnage: A firefighter tackles a blaze at the site of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane crash in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region of Ukraine
Salvage operation: Emergencies Ministry members work at the crash site after the plane was shot down, killing all 295 on board
Into a war zone: The jet was flying over the crisis-hit region of Ukraine, where the authorities have accused Russia-backed separatists of previous attacks on aircraft
Catastrophic: A view of one of a crash site in the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region. Witnesses said bodies were found scattered for many kilometres
Prime Minister David Cameron said: 'I'm shocked and saddened by the Malaysian air disaster. Officials from across Whitehall are meeting to establish the facts.'
He has summoned officials from across Whitehall for urgent talks at 7pm to discuss the latest on the crash, and what is known about any British casualties.
A Whitehall source said that this evening's meeting was involving Government officials, rather than ministers, and was focused on establishing what needs to be done for any British citizens caught up in the incident.
The Foreign Office is in talks with consular teams in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur to obtain passenger lists to establish how many UK nationals were on board.
‘We are aware of the reports and are urgently working to establish what has happened,’ a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Asked about reports that up to 10 British people had been on board, the spokesman added: ‘Our first priority is to establish if there are any British persons on board but we are not in a position to go beyond that line.’
Discarded: Luggage from the plane is piled up at the crash site by rescue workers performing recovery work in east Ukraine
Crash site: A picture taken this afternoon shows bodies amongst the wreckage of the doomed plane
Search: The Foreign Office is in talks with consular teams in Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur to obtain passenger lists to establish how many UK nationals were on board the plane
Action: A Whitehall source said that this evening's meeting was involving Government officials, rather than ministers, and was focused on establishing what needs to be done for any British citizens caught up in the incident
'Terrible': Twenty-three Americans are feared dead in the crash, which President Barack Obama called a 'terrible tragedy'
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone conversation told U.S. President Barack Obama that a Malaysian airplane crashed on Ukrainian territory, the Kremlin said.
The two leaders held a pre-planned call on the situation in Ukraine during which information became available from air traffic controllers about the crash.
Twenty-three Americans are feared dead in the crash, which President Barack Obama called a 'terrible tragedy'.
The president spoke briefly about the crash as he appeared in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday afternoon and said his national security team are working to determine if there were any U.S. citizens on board the plane that was carrying 295 people to Kuala Lumpur.
'Our thoughts and prayers are with all the passengers' families,' he added.
Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, said: 'I am shocked by reports that an MH plane crashed. We are launching an immediate investigation.'
The aircraft, which was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew, was flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur after taking off at lunchtime today.
It is believed the plane was struck by BUK surface-to-air missile at 33,000ft around 20 miles before entering Russian airspace.
The aircraft, which was carrying 280 passengers and 15 crew, was flying between Amsterdam and Kuala Lumpur after taking off at lunchtime
'Terrorist act': The Ukrainian authorities laid the blame for the attack on the rebels by denying any responsibility for the missile launch
Ripped apart: Wreckage of the Malaysian Airlines flight after it crashed in rebel-held territory in Eastern Ukraine
Down: Smoke billows into the sky after a Malaysia Airlines passenger plane was shot out of the sky at 33,000ft over eastern Ukraine, killing all 295 people on board
Tragedy: TV pictures show a pall of smoke billowing into the sky apparently from the stricken aircraft
An unverified image posted online show Ukrainian inspecting what appears to be wreckage from the doomed flight
Personal belongings: It is believed the plane was struck by BUK surface-to-air missile at 33,000ft around 20 miles before entering Russian airspace
Poignant: Passports of some of the victims. Emergency services rescue worker said at least 100 bodies had so far been found at the scene near the village of Grabovo
Doomed: Flight MH17 takes off from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam hours before it was shot down over Ukraine
The missile system is an old Soviet-built weapon designed to engage light aircraft, cruise missiles and drones.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko issued a robust denial that his forces were involved in shooting down the plane, saying: 'We do not exclude that this plane was shot down, and we stress that the Armed Forces of Ukraine did not take action against any airborne targets.'
'We are sure that those who are guilty in this tragedy will be held responsible,' he added.
Pro-Russian rebels also denied they were involved in the attack, saying they believed the plane had been shot down by the Ukrianian air force.
Earlier, pro-Russia rebels claimed responsibility for surface-to-air missile on two Ukrainian Sukhoi-25 jets yesterday.
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the second jet was hit by a portable surface-to-air missile - not a BUK - adding that the pilot was unscathed and managed to land his plane safely.
Defence experts have expressed fears in the past they could be used to target at civil aircraft.
Earlier, defence analyst Major Charles Heyman, who edited a book called Armed Forces of the European Union, believes it could have been downed by a 'slack' Ukraine air defence centre.
He told Sky News: 'It looks like confusion. It’s possible that Ukraine thought it was hostile and not civilian and shot it down.'
Powerful: The BUK surface-to-air missile system (like this one) that is believed to have shot down flight MH17 is an old Soviet-built weapon designed to engage light aircraft, cruise missiles and drones
Why was MH17 flying through a warzone? European safety watchdog warned against using Ukraine airspace since APRIL
Air accident investigators are planning to inspect the proposed flight plan lodged by pilots on board Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.
The 17-year-old jet was shot down over Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine despite commercial aircraft being warned against using the airspace because of the ongoing conflict.
One of the major questions is whether the Malaysian flight crew received the warning from flight safety officials about the risk to safety.
The jet was travelling at 33,000 feet at 490 knots when it disappeared from radar screens over Donetsk.
It is believed that the Malaysian Airlines pilots ignored several warnings to avoid the airspace over Ukraine. It is understood the Malaysian Airline jet used the Ukrainian route to save fuel as diverting north or south would have taken longer.
In April, the European Aviation and Safety Agency warned: ‘Taking into consideration the recent publication by the Russian Federation of a series of notices to airmen (NOTAMs) modifying the Simferopol FIR which is under the responsibility of Ukraine, and their intent to provide air traffic services (ATS) within this airspace, the Agency draws the aviation communities’ attention to the possible existence of serious risks to the safety of international civil flights.
The doomed flight on the tarmac of Amsterdam airport just hours before it was shot down over Ukraine
‘Due to the unsafe situation where more than one ATS provider may be controlling flights within the same airspace from 3 April 2014, 0600 UTC onwards, consideration should be given to measures to avoid the airspace and circumnavigate the Simferopol FIR with alternative routings. ‘
On July 8, the State Aviation Administration of Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian aircraft after rebels shot a military transport aircraft that was flying over 20,000 feet.
The restriction, warned commercial aircraft from transiting
British aircraft were warned to avoid the area altogether. A Notice to Airmen, seen by Mail Online warned: ‘Due to the potential for conflicting air traffic control (ATC) instructions from Ukrainian and Russian authorities and for the related potential for misidentification of civil aircraft, UK aircraft operators are strongly advised to avoid, until further notice, the airspace over Crimea, the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov.’
The EASA supplied airlines with a list of alternative routes avoiding the conflict zone.
The US Federal Aviation Authority had also banned its aircraft from the Crimea region.
The suspected shooting down of a large passenger plane while flying at altitude presents airlines and their passengers with an extremely serious new development in air travel, according to aviation experts.
They also question the future of Malaysia Airlines - caught in the global glare of bad publicity following the disappearance of flight MH 370 earlier this year.
If today's incident is confirmed as a deliberate act then Ukraine airspace could well be closed down, meaning diversions for UK carriers who currently fly to and over the area.
‘This could be a very serious development,’ said David Kaminski-Morrow, air transport editor of Flightglobal magazine.
He went on: ‘If reports are true, we are not talking about small-arm fire but serious weaponry. Normally even if planes fly over a war zone they can go high enough for the conflict not to be a worry.
‘Any decision about the opening or closing of Ukranian airspace will be a matter for the Ukrainians. It could well be that part or all of that airspace will now be closed.
‘Also, individual airlines, including UK carriers, could decide to detour around Ukraine.’
Mr Kaminski-Morrow continued: ‘It's really quite incredible that it should be Malaysia Airlines involved in this, after what happened earlier in the year.
‘This is not a small airline on a faraway route. This was a major airline flying from a European destination to a capital in the Far East. There must be serious concerns about how the airline can recover from this.
‘There will obviously be political as well as aviation concerns from all this. This will run and run.’
Malaysian Airlines said they have no information about any survivors.
In a tweet, the airline said: 'Malaysia Airlines has lost contact of MH17 from Amsterdam. The last known position was over Ukrainian airspace. More details to follow.'
A Boeing spokesman said: ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with those on board the Malaysia Airlines airplane lost over Ukrainian airspace, as well as their families and loved ones.
'Boeing stands ready to provide whatever assistance is requested by authorities.'
The jet would have been flying at high altitude on an intercontinental flight that took it over the crisis hit region of Ukraine, where the authorities have accused Russia-backed separatists of previous attacks on aircraft.
Earlier today the Ukrainian authorities said one of their fighter jets was shot down by an air-to-air missile from a Russian plane and Ukrainian troops were fired upon by missiles from a village inside Russia.
The alleged episodes mark what Ukraine says is mounting evidence that Moscow is directly supporting separatist insurgents in eastern Ukraine who have substantial quantities of powerful weapons.
A statement released by the Ukrainian President denying the plane was shot down by government forces
Malaysia Airlines confirms on Twitter (above) that it lost contact with flight MH17, the second tragedy to hit the airline this year after the disappearance of MH370, while Boeing is also investigates
Ukraine said a military transport plane was shot down Monday by a missile fired from Russian territory. Security Service chief Valentyn Nalyvaichenko said he had "unconditional evidence" that Russia was involved in downing that aircraft.
The crash comes four months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which is though to have crashed into the Indian Ocean.
Two weeks ago, investigators say what little evidence they have to work with suggests the plane was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route before eventually plunging into the Indian Ocean.
The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were heard along a final arc where analysis of satellite data put its last location.
Schedule: A board in the arrivals hall of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang still displays Malaysia Airlines MH017
Abandoned: The Malaysian airlines desk at Schiphol airport this evening, as staff waited for news of the doomed flight
But a month later, officials conceded the wreckage was not in that concentrated area, some 1,000 miles off the northwest coast of Australia, and the search area would have to be expanded.
The next phase of the search is expected to start in August and take a year, covering some 60,000 sq km at a cost of AU$60 million ($56 million) or more. The search is already the most expensive in aviation history.
The new priority search area is around 2,000km west of Perth, a stretch of isolated ocean frequently lashed by storm force winds and massive swells.
Today's downing of a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane is a grim reminder of events more than 30 years involving a Korean Airlines flight.
In an incident still shrouded in controversy and conspiracy theories, a Korean Airlines flight 007, flying from Alaska to Seoul in South Korea, was shot down by a Russian fighter on September 1 1983.
The aircraft came down at sea, killing all 269 people on board.
It had entered Soviet airspace and it later transpired that it had flown a long way off course. But this was the height of the Cold War and there were 61 Americans on board the doomed plane, so immediately recriminations began.
The Soviets assumed the passenger plane was a US spy aircraft while the US President Ronald Reagan called it 'a massacre' and 'a crime against humanity'.
Initially, the Soviet Union denied responsibility. Years later the Russians conceded that the Soviet action had been tragic but necessary, given just how far off course the civilian plane had got.